The NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved changes to playoff seeding and qualification procedures effective with the 2015-16 season, the league announced today.
As part of the modifications, the eight playoff teams in each conference will be seeded in order of their regular-season record. Most recently, every division winner was guaranteed a top four seed in its respective conference regardless of its record but did not receive home-court advantage if its playoff opponent had a better record.
InsideHoops.com spoke with a league official just to clarify that this rule change applies to both (1) Seeding and (2) Qualifying for a playoff spot (before seeding even takes place.) And what we were told is that yes, this rule change applies to both. So, the teams in a conference with the eight best records are the teams that will make the playoffs, and they will be seeded in that order.
An NBA division-winner will now miss the playoffs if that team does not have a top eight record in the conference.
Therefore, winning a division means nothing in regard to making the playoffs except in tiebreaker situations as described below:
The Board also approved changes to tiebreak criteria for playoff seeding and home-court advantage. Head-to-head results have become the first criterion to break ties for playoff seeding and home-court advantage between two teams with identical regular-season records; the second criterion is whether a team won its division. Under the old tiebreak system, a division winner was awarded the higher seed and received home-court advantage in a series if the two teams met in the playoffs.
The NBA’s Competition Committee unanimously recommended each of these changes prior to the Board of Governors vote.